Monday, January 02, 2012

An Adventure of the Gastronomical Kind

"Would you like to add extra cheese on your burger, Ma'am?"

I've always brushed off an invitation for cheese. I remember its awful, salty taste that didn't really help with my order of burgers or tacos back in the days when I was still a kid - it just added more salt, that's all. Extra cheese on my pizza order? No thank you. Other people seem to enjoy huge amounts of it on their pizza, but not me. I never liked it, didn't want to have anything to do with it, and it gives me that sickening, indigestion problem that I suspect comes with the fat content. Sugars I can handle.. but fat? The same goes for my orders with beef, fried rice, stir fried beef with flat rice noodles - it never ends up comfortably in my stomach without causing an uncomfortable feeling and a whole-day-long digestive problem.

At least, not until recently.

Through a fortunate set of circumstances, my partner and I met a Frenchman during our hiking trip to Annapurna Circuit in Nepal, which brought about this post. He was doing a round the world trip and decided to pass by to Hong Kong recently, where we extended our hospitality to cook dinner for each other, highlighting each of our cultural background. Our friend decided to make a typical french dinner which he would normally prepare for himself - It consisted of a 4 course meal: a simple tomato vinaigrette salad, panfried salmon with lemon sauce with a white wine pairing, a cheese course together with red wine pairing, and a splendid lemon meringue pie that was definitely something that's not to be missed.

Out of all that, what had the strongest impression was the cheese course. That night our friend decided to initiate us with three cheeses as a primer: a cream cheese base, encrusted with peppercorns (Rambol), cows milk base called Saint Albray, and ewe based Roquefort Societe. To pair with that, we bought some french baguette from one of the better local bakeries in town, and red wine to complement.

I've passed by one of the more upscale supermarkets in Hong Kong, with its full line of cheese and ham selections, in full bewilderment, and yet also with faint curiosity, and even sometimes, mild amusement. As any upscale supermarket cheese section goes, sometimes anyone would wonder why they would dedicate a section just for it, with cheeses of all shapes and sizes, big or small, crusted, semi crusted, moldy, holey, whatever. And I finally found out the reason why that night.

I wasn't greeted with the extreme saltiness that I've so often associated with cheeses. Those are the days long past. What I was initiated with, was an assortment of different subtle tastes and textures - aromatic, subtle, pungent, strong, soft, grainy, velvetly. By far my favorite in terms of character was the Roquefort - it is a blue cheese that has a semi hard texture, its flavor profile starting off with sweet, then pungent, followed by salty and finally having a deep smoky and salty aftertaste - It's almost like the earthiness taste of wild mushroom and truffles, together with the robust savoriness of an excellent quality steak. To be honest, I think if I had to live off something for the rest of my life, Roquefort would be a good choice. One would hardly miss eating beef when they have that in their repertoire of dishes!

Our second cheese selection, Rambol, was interesting, to say the least. It is cream cheese based, but as it has been seasoned and encrusted with black peppercorns, gives of the strong, spicy and slightly nutty flavor of the peppercorns to counter the creamy, smooth texture of the basic cream cheese base. As for the Saint Albray, it is classified as soft cheese, with its characteristic flavor profile distinctive from the first two: lightly springy but still spreadable texture, with a delicate, clean flavor of rich, quality milk and some slight aftertaste of butteriness. This was actually my overall favorite of the 3 - you can probably have tons of the Saint Albray without getting sick of it, with its mild and clean taste, whereas the Rambol and Roquefort would be something you should only take in small quantities - something to have and appreciate slowly, like eating durian (ok maybe not everyone likes this) or having a rich, thick cup of cocoa or shot of espresso.

So after a night to remember, with good home cooked food, wine (unfortunately I cannot tell if this was any good, I am a bit of a blind bat with alcohol - but our French friend did enjoy it), a nice introduction to French cheeses and a sweet and tangy lemon meringue pie, out sprung our interest and curiosity of a different kind. This delectable dairy milk by-product is no longer synonymous to saltiness - With a section full of cheese to choose from, the next trip to the supermarket is likely going to be as adventurous as the first time with our beloved Frenchman!

Bon Appetit!

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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Who Would've Thought!

Ending a career and starting a new one is no easy feat. After 10 years in the IT scene, I've decided I would help this world more by switching into something that I've set aside since my university days - something that is probably as impractical as reinventing the wheel, when everyone else has already sped past the industrial revolution and running on steroids with their fancy IPhones (but what would you know - they still need energy, and a major part of our energy source today is from coal and petroleum. Huh! )

There's no connection between my previous and upcoming career, if you would call it that ... I'm starting from scratch. Even my dad referred me to my niece this morning as "your stupid aunt". Its called Meteorology, Dad. And yes, its not going to earn me and decent bread and butter, unlike my previous corporate, red-tape ridden, politically-charged, high-paying job. I owned the financial world, gawd knows. One tap with my keyboard, and I'll probably let loose gazillions of lost $$$ for one of the major global financial institutions. That's a lot to handle, my friends. Its boring work to let a handful of rich corporations and institutions earn more money, let alone the company I work for. Don't get me wrong, my colleagues were uber nice, but I couldn't stand the whole idea the finance world is built on. My significant other may think otherwise, but we have a healthy, debate engaging relationship anyways. Its FINE.

Speed bump ahead though. A few personal issues has grossly sidetracked my glorious plan to volunteer the entirety of my personal life (including childbearing) to the emerging scientific world. I didn't say my plan was easy, but it irked me to know that even at such an early stage, I would get derailed even before I could say "atmospheric pressure".

And then, here I am, supporting yet another BUSINESS, one that ventures into profit making without any direct consideration for issues that really matter (seriously, what could be more important than scores decimated by roaring tornadoes or killer hurricanes) Never-the-mind. Lets all earn pots-of-golds and hoard them in our high security vaults - As you can see, I don't have very high regard for profit organizations of any kind. :P

And so then, I'm back to handling the IT part of the business. I'm doing a slow job, but I'm sure I'll do a great job. I'm an obssessive compulsive, backup-and-contingency centric, neurotic worker, and what could be better than THAT combination, especially for someone who works with databases. At least I am not supporting a global financial corporation which have no care on which peon they're stepping on. I've got a major shareholder's right to hold this business by the horns and turn it into the direction _I_ want (ok, maybe not the sole major shareholder, but my voice will be heard, that's for sure) if it starts stepping on the little man's toes.

I'm not quite sure if I should be happy with the current situation.. but I hope I finish my work and obligations and get on with what's important - sans politics and the evil money. Lets hope I get to hit the barometer sooner than later, and not when I'm dead. Join my crazy ride to the nobel peace prize road, will you? I'll make sure you have an interesting one!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Wanderlust (Reprised)

She looks down at her feet in concentration. One step at a time. She regulates her pants, in measured beats.

One, two.. heave. One, two... heave. One, two... heave. One, two... <...fade out...>

In some not so distant edge, she can hear voices. Three distinct ones, definitely. Arguing.

"Do you think we should tell her...?"
"Stop prattling, you're supposed to go THATAWAY!"

"I don't think you're supposed to be hitting my head like that..."

She shouldn't mind them. She should keep on holding her regular pants, using it as an anchor. Then, she doesn't have to think about how difficult all this climbing is. She just needs to get to the top. Up. The Top.

Yes. Have to go UP. GO UP.

One step at a time, she thinks. Just look down. Concentrate.
She's making sure she doesn't step on a loose gravel. She hates loose gravel... A LOT. She doesn't want to slip, like the last time.

"Quit doing that, you're jabbing your elbow at me. And it doesn't help that you're also trying to hit my windpipe..."

"Stop whining and try to concentrate!"

"Hmm. Was it something like lllllmora? Elmora? Elvira? ..."

She tries to propel herself forward and upwards. One, two ... heave. One, two... heave. Beads of sweat starting to form on her forehead.

How come she's having such a hard time? What was she doing again?
Oh. Yes, concentrate.

"What the heck are you doing???"
"SHUT UP, will you? I'm trying to pee!"
"I know I've heard it somewhere before, uh, you know...?"

Too much noise. She squints and squirms and tries to shut out her ears. She heaves and pants louder, harder. Have to block those voices. Very irritating. Why do they have to be dogging her so close? She knew she should've trained more. If she did, then she'd definitely have left these guys to bite the dust.

"I wonder what mom will say if I manage to get myself a tattoo..."
"Supercalifrage... ler....err... hm. How many characters is that word anyways?"

Oh. Yes.
How distracting.

"Should remember to pay for the electric bills. Yes."
"DAMMIT, stop DOING thAT!!!"

She counts louder, in her head.

"one, two, ... HEAVE. One, TWO ... HEAVE..."

"What's pi again? 3.14 what?"
"I wonder if bears roam around here... "
"Are you trying to be daft? OF COURSE!"


"Wait! wait!"
"What the---"


".... Ohh."
"What a beautiful spot. Hey you! LOOK!"
"Pssst! FsSSTT! Who-AAAA! YOU!"

She sees a flash of red at the edge of her vision, towards the left. A familiar, deep lovely scent of wind breezes through her. Instinctively, she slows down, and stops panting. She moves her eyes up, from the contours of her beaten, muddied shoe to eye-level.

She looks, smiles, and forgets everything else.

Somewhere from the back of her head, one of those noisy participants, lightly supplements the silence. "It doesn't get better than this, does it?" she whispers.

She nods.
Everyone agrees in silence.

... Savor it...

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Gym Progress 2009.04

Got to catch up. I think I may have missed some good classes for the holidays, but I figured, not too much either. Bibi was on vacation last week, anyways, and cancelled the Friday and Sunday classes.

I got back from vacation on Tuesday morning, but wanted to spend some quality time with my SO. He was going to leave this coming Thursday - I figured, I could go all out after he leaves. *snicker* So I just opted to skip Tuesday noon and Wednesday night.

Its amazing how some factors now come into play that weren't used to be there before. I guess that's only more motivation to make sure I can juggle and balance them all.. there's going to be more juggling later - I might as well try the beginner juggling act now. I am SUCH a considerate person (hello SO. I hope you are reading this. You are forever indebted now.)

So here I am.. making my way through the week. Second time for partner step on Friday. I thought I was going solo, but ended up with another partner (strangely, Dom wasn't around for a while, it seems). I cant remember her name though - she's the nice woman with chinky eyes that was always with another girl with zig-zaggedy hair. I've always thought they were sisters.

I skipped a possible session with Jason on Saturday in CWB, but for a good reason - I got a much needed haircut. Split ends can get really irritating, and I was losing a lot of hair at a very fast daily rate. Clumps and clumps and clumps. I swear, I'm not sure why I haven't gone bald yet. SO complains about my hair all about the house... but its not my fault, is it? I blame it on genetics, and wash my hands of any contribution on my part! (hehehehe).

Its probably for the best anyway... I was drenched from head to toe that afternoon, after finishing the haircut. I'll probably write a separate post about it later.

Also.. Bibi's HILO class? Never fails to give me a smile. I was pushed up the first row (you can say it was the experts' row) for the first time, since the regulars seemed to have gone MIA, but it was a class well worth it. AWESOME.

Fri (HL,ASM): Bibi,Bibi
Sat (SM): Calvin
Sun (SM, HL): Jason, Bibi

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

My Childhood, Revisited

This has been one of the milestone trips of my life.

There are many stories and a past behind my Easter trip's destination this year. It is a place where I grew up and defined a big part of who I am. Just like how I grew up in the Philippines, and just like how I grew up in Hong Kong. I've always thought that I was an odd person out amongst my peers. Most of the time I lived my own world, and in this place I do relive some of those sentiments.

Where are you going this long holiday break, my Hong Kong colleagues asked.
"I'm going to pray."
Oh? to Taishan?
"No. I will be going to 南海."
... Where is that?

I've always thought that the place was bigger than life. It was a sacred place of worship for Buddhists, where pious people had to travel to, at least once in their lives. The island is imbued with temples, every nook and cranny of the very small island, with tales of Guanyin and her history, within this island. God knows, it takes a considerable amount of energy, time and patience to get there before. Almost 25 years ago.

The first time I set foot in
普陀山, I was barely 5 years old. There were no conveniences then. You had to travel by train for at least 2 days, and switching from train to train, having to sleep in a chair (or sometimes, possibly the floor) shoulder to shoulder beside throngs of people eating watermelon seeds and spewing the shell on the floor, smoking their brains out, and being moronously nasty and rude. Yes, I had to go through that as a 4 year old. Finally arriving at 寧波, from there, you had to take a long, slow boat ride - if memory serves, 12 hours - to get to the small mystical island.

You had to be faithful and avoid all meats and fish a week prior - a full vegetarian diet - to be able to be worthy of setting foot in the island and being true to its beliefs.

There were no clear roads back then - so rough hiking was required just to get to a temple. It was a long hike lasting days, going from temple to temple, saying prayers and burning incense. It was no easy feat, either. You literally had to climb mountains to get to your destination. My mom had me and my brothers in tow during one trip, and now that I further think about it, that in itself was a miracle and a testament to my mother's determination. We were all barely adolescents at that time.

During my first trip, I couldn't hike, since I was too small, so they had to employ 2 people to carry a transportable chair to carry me through the mountains. It was quite embarrassing, since I was pretty much more than eye level than everyone else - carried around like a king. But there wasn't many pilgrims back then. It was a quiet countryside, where prayers were done solemnly and in silence, and so I was able to only cook my embarrassment by myself with no more than a few laughs and odd glances.

We lived inside the 普濟禪寺 monastery each time. The rooms were wooden and cold, back then. Sleeping happens at 6pm, waking up at 3am, and a morning prayer at 4am. I remember I loved the food there, and the weather was always spectacular - it was always cool and slightly windy, and the vegetables always felt like they were all freshly taken out of the ground and straight into the pan. Everyone was polite and reverent ... it was like stepping into another magical world. The vegetables were nothing like those you found anywhere else in China, were they've probably been grown for their economic value - money, rather than the quality. The vegetables in 普陀山 looked like they were taken care of, very carefully and lovingly, because the ones who will be consuming them would be the monks themselves.

I remember many of their faces, but none of their names. There would always be one monk to accompany us to all the temples in the island. They helped us, and lead us the way, and I've grown to love and be accustomed to many of them, always remembering them with a soft spot. They were always patient. I wished I could have taken photos with each of them, every year that I went there, afterwards. Even if I could not remember their names, then at least their faces wouldn't be so blurry to me, in my memory.

But I always remember one in particular... I think he was there at the beginning. He was the one who greeted and welcomed me everytime. He was from a province near Shanghai. I'm not quite sure actually why I always remember him, but I always do, and with a tender fondness. He was always the teaching, wise old sage that tries to nurtures calm to a young child. He was the one thing that reminded me of Putuoshan.

Fast forward to 2009. I have not been there for many years since I have graduated university, and started working. It now takes less than 4 hours to get from Hong Kong border to 舟山 via a plane ride, and a quick 15 minute ferry to 普陀山. There are cars to drive you to most of the major temples, and you would be able to get to most of them within a day, and be back by Monday in time for work. Students and tourists come on the weekends, ferry loads of them, like the place was a tourist attraction. An abomination in my book.

Where have the reverence, piety and silence gone?

And yet, this is the first year that I will be coming not as a child, or an adolescent, or a teenager, or a working yuppie, but as a wife to a husband. The roads and paths are different, the atmosphere's different, the people are different, if not overwhelming in number. Even the newer, younger monks look grumpier than usual.. but in a deplorable, angsty, modern sense. (Trust me, there were nasty monks back then. Butwhen I say nasty, I mean, really "get out of the shrine and the head monk's way, or I will kick you 10 feet from here - I'm SERIOUS" kind of nasty.) It was all very depressing.

But before then end of the trip... I've had the fortunate chance to met with the sagely, kind old monk. I may have grown taller, and matured with age, but I always remember being a child when I do meet him - I have grown much, and and so has he, but our relation has not. I met him again, with my husband... and, he is still the sage, and I, the young 4 year old child. He may look like he is aging - and yes, he has been sickly a few years back with some serious health problems - but I was happy to see him this year looking quite healthy and looking as much like I remembered him when I was 4. And then, I was relieved from my worries.

普陀山 has changed - the place may have been transformed to a concrete, infrastructured place like any other city in the Mainland, with even hotels to boot - but the quintessential anchor has not. I am glad, that despite the new faces and younger generation of monks - even they seem hasty and modern to me - the memory that I've always known, are still there. The heart of the place remains the same, as it was back when I was a child. No one will touch that.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Gym Progress 2009.03

Not much for this week. I have an up and coming Easter trip starting Thursday, so that rules out this week's weekend classes, as well as Wednesday night, where I had to prepare for my "luggage" in preparation for the next day - I still DO have work then.

I did miss out on Jason though.. I was running late from the office and tried to ask Dom to grab me a BP space, but found out he wasn't attending either. So I swapped it with a BP class in Whampoa so I could make it in time. It could be better.... but its alright.

Got to get back next week!

Mon (BP): Diana

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Gym Progress 2009.02

This is the week I started with weights again. I've been looking forward for it for a few days already.. I couldn't wait to get off work just to start pumping again. The plan? get my back straight, my paunch gone, my leg muscles with more support for steps, and the ultimate goal - to get into my gym attire clothes again. No way am I going to spend additional money just to buy the same clothes but in a bigger size. I think I've already spent a small fortune getting the old size clothes - God knows, some of them I haven't even used yet.

I mean, seriously... I used to do this 15 hours a week, every day of the week. I never used the home bathroom anymore, back then. I was just taking a bath in the gym on a daily basis... hahaha It does have its good points - less laundry (the gym provides a set), complimentary shampoo, conditioner, soap and lotion... even the ear buds are included :P Point being.. I have enough gym clothes to last me a week. And some more. That's how MUCH clothes I had.

I was also in preparation for the coming onslaught of pain right after. Or should I say, on the day after. So I even scheduled an "early" leave on Wednesday to get some rest.. and right on the dot, I could barely concentrate at work on Wednesday. I was really aching all over.

Well, despite that, I obviously skipped Jason's Wednesday class. I could barely lift myself by 4pm that day. No way I can attend his class now.

Come Friday, I attended my very first Friday morning class again, with the usual routine. At night, the first time without my usual partner, I duo-ed with Dom. Not bad, not bad. :)

And on Sunday.. no way I am going to miss out on a double Bibi class (she cancelled the previous advanced step class, and provided only the high lo nowadays). So I gave myself a break on Saturday to recuperate... besides, my SO was in town, and I do have to spend quality time with him that weekend (at least, until Sunday afternoon :P)

So, as before... :

Mon (BP,SM): Gavin,Jason
Fri (HL,ASM): BiBi,Bibi
Sun (HL,SM): Bibi, Bibi